The state of our current political landscape renders it acceptable to ask prime ministerial candidates the definition of a woman. To put forth “the transgender debate” in the leadership contest of 2022 in the same breath as the cost-of-living crisis, COVID-19 scandals, Brexit failures and corruption is a deliberate choice by those in power to frame our existence as a matter of national importance.
At every opportunity, this government has chipped away at what little rights we have in the name of combatting “wokeism” and protecting sex-based rights. The argument goes that the reformation of the Gender Recognition Act would be in direct conflict with the Equality Act of 2010, due to biological sex being named a protected category. This logic fails, however, when you read the first sentence of the overview of this bill on the gov.uk website: the Equality act “legally protects people from discrimination.” It does not give anyone rights. Transgender people being afforded more compassionate and accessible care and legal protection does in no way affect biological sex’s protected status.
Britain has a long-standing history with transphobia: popular media such as League of Gentlemen, The IT Crowd, Spaced, and many more had episodes dedicated to trans panic – the idea that being with a transgender person was so repulsive that it warranted vomiting, intense shame and inevitable mockery. Combine that pretty picture with Section 28 and you have a recipe for an insufficiently educated population with a skewed perception of transness.
Misogyny is rampant in the UK: the Metropolitan Police both fail to protect women from violence while members themselves are perpetrators of rape, sexual assault, and other such crimes linked to gender-based violence. But so much of the blame is misdirected towards trans women. The idea that it is somehow easier to commit sexual crimes if one poses as a trans person is completely unfounded – plenty of men commit heinous acts without donning a skirt and entering a women’s bathroom like some “gender-critical” people will have you believe. Trans people just want to be able to live as themselves without fear of being fired, attacked or ridiculed for being their authentic selves. The solution to violence against women and girls is not, and will never be, transphobia.
Institutionalised transphobia is no longer just an issue of Party politics – if it was ever that at all. It is now standard political practice in the UK to scapegoat trans people. The defence of trans rights earns you a Scarlet Letter – no politician who has more desire for power than principle dare touch it. While trans people are creating escape plans and stocking up on prescriptions in the likely event that things continue to deteriorate for us here in these British Isles, the people who are supposed to represent us are sleeping soundly in their beds with the knowledge that their poll numbers are safe and sound.
I can no longer count the number of emails I have sent to MPs, of emergency protest movements I have seen, of enquiries and calls for input which make little to no dent in the great grey wall of transphobic legislation. As the barriers get taller, as the walls continue to close in, it becomes increasingly difficult to see any light in the distance.
The word on everyone’s tongues at present seems to be hope. This disquiets me. Nothing sings sinking ship quite like the captain asking the passengers to pray. If all the higher-ups have to offer me is hope, the holes of oppression this establishment pierces relentlessly in us threaten to sink us all. The equality for which we long appears as an island not unlike our own, drifting further into the distance.
As a miserable young teenager forced to live in a persona étranger, I dreamt of returning to the UK to transition. Even back in the early 2010s I knew things weren’t perfect, but I was not yet accustomed to being a talking point in every other day’s tabloids. Besides, I figured, it couldn’t be any worse than living in a country where my identity could easily get me killed. I hoped – and there’s that tricky word again – that most people would ignore me, let me go about my business. Yet I wake every morning pinching myself because I swear I’ve seen this story before, this government policy, this treacherous terrain. My only error was believing I had escaped it.
I may be met with incredulity when I assert that I am not in fact a pessimist, nor a bitter cynic throwing a tantrum about a law in a part of the country to which I have little connection. But this bill, this gruelling six-year process, this light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel, was snuffed out in a few paragraphs. Years of investigation and probing questions, of poking at our wounds until they reopen were for worse than nothing. They let us believe we’d found land, then dragged us down by the anchor.
If there was ever a good time to offer comfort to the trans people in your life, it is now. Shout with us until this government cannot sleep for all the racket, no matter how much cotton they cram into their ears. If trans people stand alone in this fight, it will be over in minutes. If you feel even the slightest bit of solidarity with us, show up. We could use the extra hands to bail out the water from the bottom of this battered boat.